Updates from the State Senate - May 13, 2019

The photo above was taken in Gresham.

 

Robert Cowles

 

Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District

 

 

   

 

 

 

Quick Fact

 

Here's a sweet fact: Wisconsin ranks 4th nationally in maple syrup production. Did you know that tapping season happens in early spring and production of fresh maple syrup is happening right now?

 

Community Events

 

 

One of my favorite things about being your State Senator is getting to meet constituents out in the community at some of our great local events.

 

The 2nd Senate District is also home to many great events and attractions. Whether you're a visitor or a life-long resident, you will not run out of things to do and see in Northeast Wisconsin.

 

To find an event or attraction in your area, visit the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Fox Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Shawano County Chamber of Commerce, or the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce. To find more public events, visit the community calendars on WLUK News and the Appleton Post-Crescent.

 

Helpful Links

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

 

Itís a nice break to step away from reviewing budget analysis to take a few minutes to update you on whatís been going on around the Capitol. Iíll talk more about the budget below, but this is certainly not the only thing happening in state government. Iíll discuss some of the updates from a busy past few weeks around the Capitol and in the district.

 

In this e-newsletter, I've included information on:

  1. The release of three major audits

  2. First bills of the session become law

  3. Unpacking the budget process

  4. Recent Natural Resources Committee hearings

  5. UWGB regains program funding

  6. Recent events I've attended around the district

  7. And more

 

As always, feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have, and be sure to visit my website and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more regular updates from around the 2nd Senate District and in the State Capitol.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Senator Robert Cowles

Proudly Serving Wisconsin's 2nd Senate District

 

Release of Three Major Audits

 

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau has been busy preparing for the recent release of three major audits. In-turn, as Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Iíve been busy reviewing these audits and preparing for the necessary follow-up on these evaluations to learn more and ensure a proper and necessary level of accountability and transparency in our state agencies.

  

The first audit examined expenditures at the 36 adult correctional institutions in Wisconsin. LAB found 62.8 percent of Wisconsinís total adult correctional expenditures were for personnel. In addition, 13.3 percent of expenditures spent on wages was spent on overtime. The total number of paid overtime hours increased by 50.7 percent over the prior four fiscal years, while turnover rates for correctional officers rose to 26.1 percent during the same time frame. The vacancy rate for all security positions increased from 6.7 percent to 14.0 percent during this period, with vacancy rates among maximum-security facilities reaching 19.8 percent on average. The audit identifies several initiatives DOC has attempted to try to retain staff through wage add-ons, signing bonuses, job fairs, and on-site training programs, though better data needs to be collected to determine the effectiveness of these different programs. However, the goal is still to reduce staffing vacancies, turnover, and instances of excessive overtime. Doing this would not only result in cost savings, but ultimately a safer and more sustainable work environment. To learn more about this audit, check out the press release on the audit, the auditís summary, or a story by the AP on the audit.

 

The second audit examined the financial management and operations of the UW-System and recommended a number of changes to ensure more accountability and transparency. These recommendations include considering using program revenue balances to offset potential rate increases for auxiliary services (such as housing) and developing or revising policies and guidelines for new personnel systems to ensure UW institutions are not providing merit-based salary adjustments to personnel not meeting performance expectations. Additionally, LAB found that the UW-System took some steps but is not in full compliance with recommendations from a previous audit on the relationships between the UW-System and affiliated organizations. While the UW-System has taken some steps in the right direction on improving these relationships, this analysis showed once again that more follow-up will be required to ensure smart practices are employed when using student and taxpayer funds. I encourage the UW-System to revise its administrative policies to reflect recommendations from LAB in a swift manner. To learn more about this audit, check out the press release on the audit or the auditís summary.

 

The third audit was a biennial audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporationís operations. In FY 2017-18, LAB evaluated WEDCís administration of 30 programs through which it allocates or awards tax credits, grants, and loans. LAB also analyzed WEDCís revenues and administrative expenditures. WEDCís information indicated that recipients of 68 tax credit and loan awards created 2,084 of 5,970 contractually required jobs (34.9%). LAB found WEDC did not consistently comply with statutes and its contracts because WEDC awarded tax credits to recipients that created or retained jobs filled by individuals who did not perform services in Wisconsin or were non-Wisconsin residents, and because it annually verified information in the performance reports submitted by a sample of award recipients in only one of the two years of the audit period. Itís disappointing that while WEDC makes progress in certain areas LAB continues to find new emerging issues audit after audit. The inability of WEDC to comply with state statutes and guidelines has put taxpayer funds at risk. This isnít just an issue of unaccountability, but shows the desired outcomes of these programs have not been consistently achieved. Itís my hope that, through the Audit Committee process and possibly the Legislative process, we will be able to address these issues. To learn more about this audit, check out the press release on the audit or the auditís summary.

 

First Bills of the Session Become Law

 

On the first day of May, the Governor came to Neenah to sign two bills I actively backed. The first bill helped to give Wisconsinites a better piece of mind during automotive transactions. Senate Bill 3 simplifies DOTís licensure review process for auto dealers and others involved with auto transactions while still ensuring due process. With this new law, we provide DOT the ability to better protect Wisconsinites from fraudulent activity. Thanks to Representative David Steffen (R-Green Bay), Senator Andrť Jacque (R-De Pere), and Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) for your partnership on this effort. To learn more, check out this article from WBAY.

  

On the same day, Senate Bill 1 was signed into law to name the 41/10/441 interchange after the late Senate President Mike Ellis. I was proud to be able to stand with my late friend and former colleagueís family and friends at the bill signing to name this Winnebago County interchange after this once in a generation elected leader. Naming the interchange requires federal approval before signs can be posted, but it shouldnít be long before the signs are posted. Iím pleased to have joined Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton), Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R-Neenah), Representative Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton), and other colleagues from the Fox Valley area to author this bill. Check out this article from the Post Crescent or WHBY to learn more.

 

Senate Bill 4, which I authored with Representative John Spiros (R-Marshfield), also recently became law. This legislation cleans up antiquated statutory language to let Wisconsin municipalities utilize new products to better administer their parking enforcement and make it more user-friendly for the habitual parking violator when faced with an immobilization device. This bill was supported by local government and law enforcement groups.

  

Finally, I attended the Governorís bill signing as supporter and as a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Senate Bill 19, authored by Senator Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Representative Jagler (R-Watertown), to remove the R-Word from state administrative code. This new law will prevent parents from having to fill out forms designating their child with this regressive term. Check out a photo from this bill signing below.

 

 

Unpacking the Budget Process

  

As I discussed in the opening, the state budget process is now well underway with the public hearings around the state having been concluded. The final public hearing held by the Committee was in Green Bay on April 24th, and it was my pleasure to be able to attend the hearing and listen to constituents and other area residents.

  

The first executive session of the Committee was held last Thursday. While I am not a member of the Joint Finance Committee, which is the stateís budget writing committee, I will be diligent in ensuring that our stateís financial future remains strong and that Northeast Wisconsin continues to have a strong voice advocating for it in this process.

  

I want to unpack the state budget process as the budget is always the largest bill of each session and is a key topic of discussion in state government for months. While weíre just beginning the 2019-2021 biennial budget process, the budget process is overall cyclical. This means that between the Legislature and the Administration, the process of either drafting, implementing, or analyzing the budget does not really end. To illustrate how the steps of the budget process are cyclical in nature, Iíve included a chart below.

  

  

Currently, we are near the bottom of this cycle, between the Governorís submittal of recommended budget and Legislative enactment of the budget bill. However, there is a lot of work that is incorporated into this step.

  

The Joint Finance Committee is the portion of the Legislature responsible for assembling the final budget which will be voted on by full Legislature to enact the budget bill. This responsibility includes being briefed on each portion of the budget in-person and through written analysis by the Joint Finance Committee, weighing feedback theyíve heard from the public and other Legislators, and voting on each budget item or adopting alternatives to the proposed budget. In this process, they will vote on hundreds of different budget motions to ultimately create a final budget to be voted on.

  

Once the Legislature has sent a budget to the Governor and the Governor has taken his action, the Legislatureís primary role in the biennial budget process is concluded. However, it is important to note that due to the cyclical nature of the budget process, actions in this budget will impact our future fiscal standing. An analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected that the state would face a $1.96 billion budget shortfall to start the 2021-2023 biennium if the Governorís budget were adopted as proposed. This budget shortfall is also known as a structural deficit. Building this budget on unsustainable funding levels creates the potential for future budgetary issues as it has in the past.

  

The funding being debated and discussed in the budget process is your money, which is why itís important to keep you all updated on how this process works and where we are in the process. While this is only a very brief overview of the budget process, I hope this helped to illustrate how tedious and how important the budget process is.

  

If you want to take a deeper dive into the state budget process, Iíd recommend you read 2019 Informational Paper 73 from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau at the link below:

 

  

  

Recent Natural Resources Committee Hearings

 

As Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, I have the opportunity to hear bills related to maintaining or improving Wisconsinís pristine outdoors while working in cooperation with Wisconsin sportsmen and women, local governments, and the business community. In the past month, weíve held three committee hearings covering a number of different topics that Iíll discuss below.

  

  

  • Senate Bill 31, which Iíve authored with Representative Krug (R-Nekoosa) and Senator Testin (R-Stevens Point), would divert the entirety of the annual agricultural permitting fees for large farms from the general fund to the DNRís segregated account to help address the wastewater permitting and inspection backlog. This bill was heard by the Committee.

  • Senate Bill 85, which Iíve authored with Representative Horlacher (R-Mukwonago), would provide disabled veterans with a discounted rate on the DNRís Conservation Patron license, lining the price up with other license discounts offered to those who sacrificed in service to our nation. Below, Iím pictured with Al Labelle from Disabled American Veterans who testified in support of SB 85. This bill was heard and voted out of Committee 5-0.

  

  • Senate Bill 125, which Iíve authored with Representatives Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), would protect the health and safety of State Park visitors by using unobligated Stewardship funds from prior years to upgrade $5.2 million worth of backlogged water infrastructure projects in some of the most popular State Parks. This bill would also provide $300,000 in additional expenditure authority for temporary staffing and other maintenance activities in State Parks. This bill was heard and voted out of Committee 5-0.

  • Senate Bill 137, which is authored by Senator Testin and Representative Kurtz (R-Wonewoc), provides $10 million to help private well owners have access to safe, clean drinking water by creating a grant program to pay a portion of the cost for installing a filtration system or repairing or replacing an existing well. This bill was heard by the Committee.

  • Senate Bill 169, which is authored by Senator Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Representative Tusler (R-Harrison), creates a more flexible release schedule for wetland banking mitigation credits and creates statutory certainty to ensure that wetland mitigation is done closer to the site of the impacted wetland. This bill was heard by the Committee.

 

UWGB Regains Program Funding

 

The Joint Finance Committee approved an effort last week that I supported with Representative John Macco (R-Ledgeview) on behalf of the Oneida Nation and UW-Green Bay to restore a $247,500 annual payment from the tribal nationís gaming taxes to the university for first nations studies programming. This is a common-sense budget motion that Iím glad to see approved. Check out the Fiscal Bureau paper on this motion on the Legislatureís website.

 

Recent Events Attended

 

I have the opportunity to attend a number of community events each week. These events are central in my role as an elected official as they allow me to stay up-to-date on the latest news from businesses, non-profits, and local governments. I also get to welcome dozens of residents from Northeast Wisconsin into the Capitol each week as they come to my office to talk about the issues important to them in their professional and personal life. Here is just a sampling of some of the events Iíve recently attended around the district and meetings Iíve had in the Capitol:

  • It was a pleasure to be able to celebrate Georgia-Pacificís 100th anniversary of their Broadway Mill in Green Bay with the company and local leaders. While consumer preferences and product development has changed a lot over the past century, GPís commitment to our region has remained strong.

  • It was good to be able to celebrate the National Day of Prayer on May 2nd with members of the community at the KI Convention Center. Thank you to the Leap of Faith Group for hosting this event every year.

  • I enjoyed speaking to the Brown County Home Builders Association at their recent Bringing Housing Home Breakfast.

  

  • I recently attended an informative Community Conversation at Green Bayís Heartland Pizza Company with local business leaders looking to learn more about the communal and financial benefits of incorporating individuals with disability into the workforce. Iíve supported efforts in the past to this end, and continue to support integrated employment.

  • The Young Professionals network in the greater Green Bay area rivals that of similar organizations throughout the state and even the region and is crucial in recruiting and retaining young employees for local employers. I attended a Current YP's event recently to meet some local professionals and support this organization.

  • The state VFW selected the Freedom VFW Post 7692 and Auxiliary and the Town of Freedom to host the annual Loyalty Day Celebration. It was a pleasure to be able to join them for the parade and program. The town and Freedom VFW did a good job hosting!

  • The Brown County Veteranís Memorial Arena has been standing for about sixty years in our region, hosting countless sporting events, concerts, monster trucks, and other special events. Many residents from throughout the region have numerous memories in this arena, but those same residents also recognize the age and that a newer facility is needed to continue drawing those events to Northeast Wisconsin. I attended the goodbye ceremony for the arena recently. To read about some of the events that took place here, check out this Green Bay Press-Gazette article.

  • The Task Force on Water Quality, which I am a member of, was on the road for the first public hearing outside of the Capitol last Wednesday. The hearing was in Lancaster in the Southwest corner of the state, and started with a few invited guests before we heard testimony from members of the public. More meetings throughout the state, including one in Green Bay, will take place this summer and into early fall.

  • On Friday, I attended the Howard-Suamico School District Legislator Roundtable. As always, itís informative to hear from local leaders in our schools on what issues are important to them.

 

In Other News...

 

 Here are some other stories I wanted to share with you:

  • Clintonville Police Chief Jim Beggs announced earlier this year that heís retiring after 44 years on the force in his hometown. I want to thank Chief Beggs for his many years of service to his community, and wish him all the best in retirement.

  • Kaukauna High School was one of eight schools to recently receive a national award for top Career and Technical Education programs. This national recognition further reaffirms that Kaukaunaís Manufacturing Program, run in partnership with Fox Valley Tech, is well equipped to prepare students for high-demand careers in manufacturing through hands-on experience and rigorous coursework. Learn more here.

  • Last week, it was announced that Wisconsinís tourism industry continued to grow in 2018 as the industry was valued at $21.6 billion, a 5% increase from the year prior, as a result of 112 million visitors. The tourism industry supports nearly 200,000 jobs and generates $879 million in state tax revenue and $703 million in local tax revenue. This is fantastic news!

  • Today kicks off National Police Week, an annual celebration of the brave and dedicated law enforcement officers who protect and serve us in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. If you see a police officer this week, please take a moment to thank them.

  • Good nurses are the foundation of Wisconsinís strong healthcare industry. Last Monday was National Nurses Day, the perfect opportunity to recognize the contribution that nurses have in keeping Wisconsin healthy. Thank you to all of the nurses in Northeast Wisconsin!

  • Last week was also National Small Business Week, one of the best times of the year to explore and patronize more of the many great small businesses in Northeast Wisconsin. Shopping local helps to keep more money in the community and revitalizes Main Street. Be sure to check out more local businesses year-round in your community and in neighboring communities.

  • National Prescription Drug Take Back Day was held a few Saturdayís ago, but just because you missed this perfect opportunity to clean out your medicine cabinet doesnít mean you canít still properly dispose of unwanted prescription painkillers and other medications. To find a disposal site near you open year-round, visit the Dose of Reality website.

 

 

 

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 | Office: 118 South, State Capitol

 
Office: (608) 266-0484 | District: (920) 448-5092 | Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov

 

     

 

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